Summer 2013
It’s Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas… By Haley Shapley

Pine. Cinnamon. Holly. Nothing evokes the holidays quite like these scents. Find out how to work nostalgia to your advantage this season.

Candles do well in stores year-round, but nothing compares to the holiday season, when 35 percent of candles are sold, according to the National Candle Association.

In some part, that’s likely due to scent being so closely tied with memory—the olfactory nerve is close to the hippocampus, which has an important role in processing both short-term and long-term memories, and the amygdala, a key player in emotional memory.

Alassis-Holiday-high-res7-copy“Studies have been done that prove the strong tie between fragrance and memories,” says Lindsey Hughes, public relations manager for Grace Management Group, parent company to brands including Votivo, Bridgewater Candle Company, Greenleaf, and The Willowbrook Company. “Therefore, fragrances containing cinnamon and vanilla notes immediately take you back to grandma’s kitchen and the warm comforts and familiarity of home. Fragrances with strong fir or pine notes evoke memories of annual treks to the Christmas tree lot and decorating for the holidays. The fragrance alone puts you right back in the midst of that special place even if you aren’t really there.”

Something old, something new

What’s hot for the holidays, 2013? Christmas and Hanukkah are very traditional, so there’s not as much variation in consumer preference as there is for candles in general. Still, manufacturers tend to release new fragrances every season to accompany the tried-and-true offerings.

Nouvelle Candle Company, founded in Louisiana in 2001, is one company that likes to stick to its roots but also branch out a bit.

“Our holiday [line] has been so successful over the years, we have to be very careful about bringing in too much change,” says owner Tom Scarborough. “When customers find something they like and it becomes part of their holidays season after season, they get a little cranky if you change it up on them too much.”

In addition to old favorites like Savannah Holly (spicy with notes of fresh-cut greens), Fresh Cut Fir (a combination of blue spruce, Fraser fir, and cedar), Mandarin Spice (bitter orange and citrus notes combined with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg), and Fireside (cinnamon and evergreen infused with hints of smoke and citrus), the company—known for its French-style ceramic containers—is adding two new fragrances for winter.

Burning Leaves “really captures that smell that we all kind of remember of childhood of dad raking the leaves out in the yard and maybe burning them,” Scarborough says, while Auld Lang Syne will be fitting for New Year’s Eve celebrations. “If it’s possible for a fragrance to smell bubbly, it does. It very definitely captures the bouquet when you first pop that cork on the champagne bottle.”


AuntSadies3-copyCandles aren’t the only way to add scent to a space. Susan Adams, co-owner of Candles Off Main in Annapolis, MD, says diffusers are still selling well, and Chesapeake Bay Candle’s PR and marketing specialist Ryan Sloneker agrees that this is an item that’s gaining fans.

“In the past, reed diffusers have been around, but they’re definitely picking up steam,” she says. “The technology’s getting better; one diffuser can really fill your whole house. They’ve not had the best reputation for giving off fragrance as well as a flamed candle does, but that’s changing.”

While Chesapeake Bay Candle’s holiday 2013 collection, called Cozy Chic, of course features candles, the centerpiece is actually a flameless option: a ceramic warmer embossed in an argyle pattern with pinecone-shaped wax melts.

The fragrances are Apple Cider (lemon peel and juicy mandarin marry cinnamon and clove-spiced apple, as red berries and sliced pear are sweetened with vanilla and light musk), Snowy Pine (pine needles and aromatic greenery punctuate a nest of wintry red berries and icy fir, supported by soft musk, spicy orientals, and aged woods), and Winter Spice (tangy orange and clove bud combine with sweet pine, frosted fir, ground nutmeg, and allspice, with a base of amber and oriental spices).

“They have a lot of layers, but they still have that same holiday scent that everyone’s familiar with and really looks forward to that time of year,” Sloneker says.

Trendy but traditional

Paddywax-copyAnother trend Adams has noticed is the branching out of candle companies. “We’re starting to see more of the candle brands getting into personal products, taking home fragrance and translating it into a body fragrance,” she says.

That fits Archipelago Botanicals in Los Angeles, CA, which started out in the candle business nearly 15 years ago and is now well known for its bath and body products as well. For the holiday 2013 season, creative director Gregg Corzine says they really looked at giving the consumer a reason for the season—a motivation to make a purchase.

“One of the things we’re seeing is the importance of packaging,” Corzine says. “It’s got to be inspirational, it’s got to have color, it’s got to have style. The consumer wants more today; she’s willing to pay a little more, but she wants the quality to go with it.”

The common thread throughout much of what Archipelago is doing for the holidays is marrying a trendy look with a traditional scent. On tap for the coming season is a metallic collection with metallic crocodile boxes in copper, pewter, and gold; luster glass containers; and antique linen labels. The fragrances are woods, cognacs, and spices. A winter frost collection will be in all whites and silvers, with laser-cut snowflakes over metallic textured papers. An ornament collection features a dozen candle tins with an ornate stone applied; they’re displayed on an acetate rack shaped like a Christmas tree.

Home for the holidays

VirginiaCandleCompany2-copyThose traditional scents like the ones Archipelago creates do well for a reason. “People want it to smell warm and cozy or like a Christmas tree; they’re inside more and they want that ambience to add some value,” Adams says. “Fragrances tend to be warmer, cozier, and narrower in scope than the rest of the year. You see a lot of repetition; everyone’s offering [something similar] but with their spin on it.”

Cinnamon, for example, is a perennial favorite in holiday candles. For holiday 2013, Votivo is debuting a new take called Velvet Night, which is meant to invoke warmth and good cheer. “The cinnamon notes are present in the heart of the fragrance, but top notes of sweet brandy-soaked pear and star anise give it an unexpected twist,” says Hughes of Grace Management Company.

While there are some regional preferences in candles—for example, Diane Sparrow, creative director at Milkhouse Candle Creamery in Osage, IA, notes that Peach does better in Georgia, while Cabin Fever, a woodsy, spicy scent, does better in Minnesota throughout the year—holiday scents don’t differ much based on geography.

“With as much as people are moving and not staying in one place anymore, it’s much more evenly divided,” says Kevin Richards, CEO at Scents & Sprays in Las Vegas, NV. In his store, the Nest Holiday fragrance—pomegranate, mandarin orange, pine, cloves, and cinnamon with a hint of vanilla and amber—is one of the top sellers. “It really brings the smell of the holidays home,” he adds.

Milkhouse Candle Creamery, which creates their candles from a blend of soy and beeswax, used to take fall and winter fragrances out of the line during the off-seasons but found that people want to buy them year-round. They do best during the holidays with Victorian Christmas, a sophisticated mix of fresh-cut pine boughs with rich spices. For those who aren’t a fan of the pine scent, Tis the Season is very popular, with a blend of tart citrus, warm spices, and a touch of vanilla that makes it reminiscent of grandma’s kitchen. Gingerbread Pumpkin packs a punch of longevity, with strong sales from August until the first of the year.

“People have a stronger tie toward their homes now,” Sparrow notes. “They want that fragrance that they associate with comfort and coming home. It’s a back-to-their-roots sort of thing and less about the glam kind of thing.”

On display

Votivo4-copyShoppers are already primed to buy candles for the holidays, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help the process along. Corzine of Archipelago believes that the more education you can give someone, particularly in regard to high-end candles, the better a customer she’ll be.

“Educate a consumer on how to care for it, how to trim the wick, why they’re going to have a better consumer experience with a quality product,” he says. “There’s nothing better than a well-educated consumer.”

If you don’t have a great selection to educate your shoppers about in the first place, though, you’re doing yourself a disservice, warns Scarborough of Nouvelle Candle Company. “One thing that retailers do, and I’m certainly sympathetic to it, is to try to dabble in a line and think you’ll put a few out there and see how they’re received,” he says. “The key to selling our candles and perhaps any other product is to really buy enough to make a proper statement with it.” Scarborough recommends starting with eight to 12 fragrances and being consistent in the fragrances across formats.

Carry good holiday candles and display them well, and you’re bound to capture some hearts (and dollars). “Candles are just a tradition and people love traditions,” Richards says. “As the world changes around them, it’s nice to bring back the memories of holidays past.”

Haley Shapley

Haley Shapley is a Seattle-based freelance writer who 
specializes in retail, travel and health topics. Learn more at

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